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Infect Immun. 1982 Jan;35(1):95-104.

Differential complement resistance mediates virulence of Haemophilus influenzae type b.


Studies were undertaken to gain insight into the virulence of type b in contrast to the other Haemophilus influenzae capsular types. A relationship was found between the comparative virulence of H. influenzae types in humans and their resistance to the bactericidal effect of antibody-free complement. Type b was most resistant to the bactericidal effect of complement. The other types could be divided into three groups based upon their susceptibility to complement; this grouping was also related to their structural similarities. No association between virulence and either the biotype, source of isolate, in vitro association with peripheral polymorphonuclear leukocytes, or the total amount of capsular polysaccharide was found. However, among the type b strains, higher levels of cell-associated polysaccharide were associated with increased resistance to complement. The relative virulence of the six H. influenzae types in the infant rat model was generally similar to that in humans. After intraperitoneal challenge, type b and type a strains had the lowest 50% effective doses for bacteremia, removed by several logs from the values of the other types. By intranasal challenge, type b strains produced higher rates and levels of bacteremia than did type a strains. High levels of natural bactericidal antibodies to types c and e were found in adult female rats; this finding alone could not account for the differences in virulence among the H. influenzae types in the infant rat model. We propose that the virulence of type b strains is due to their greater resistance to the bactericidal activity of serum complement alone. Resistance to type b disease requires serum antibody to induce the complement-mediated reaction.

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